This week’s TED talk comes from Julian Baggini, a philosopher, writer, and the cofounder and editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine. The talk (Is there a real you?) was given at the TEDxYouth@Manchester 2011 event. I thought the presentation was clear and even though it was somewhat elementary (on purpose), the analogies were both spot-on and thought-provoking.

In this talk, Baggini claims that there is no real you, in the sense that you are a separate thing. There is a you in that you are a collection of your experiences and thus change with time and new encounters. Without using the terminology, he is saying that there is no dualism. There is no separate “you”, “you” are your brain and the experiences you have. Baggini finds this idea freeing as you no longer need to seek and struggle to find out who the static you is, but that, to quote the army (my quote), “you can be all you can be.” With the constraints that genetics imparts, of course.

He doesn’t really address why we all tend to think there is a separate, or in his language, “real” you, but I suppose that would be for another talk. Is the “real” you epiphenomenal? Is it an illusion created by your brain?  Is it something that through our environment we have been trained to create? Is the matrix real? Okay, maybe not that one…

I’m not willing to give up on a “real” you at this point and am not sure that the evidence necessitates it at this point anyway. Even if neuroscience and genetics play a limiting role in our “you-ness” that doesn’t mean these disciplines eliminate it. I don’t see how science can remove the possibility of a separate you that isn’t material (even if I disagree with it), since science wouldn’t be able to test it. More likely, could this “real” you emerge out of the properties of the materials as in his watch and waterfall examples? Wouldn’t this you still be “real”? It could be a simple issue of competing definitions as well. Perhaps Baggini would say that this emergent you is legitimate but not defined as “real” because it’s similar to what we label and attribute to other objects and phenomena?

Clearly, this talk did it’s job and stimulated the creative juices. I’ve got to commend Baggini for that. Whether you agree with him or not, he made his point well and memorable for his intended audience and he also raised more questions than answers for this viewer (and likely many others). It’s very hard to do both in a 12 minute talk. Bravo.

I’ll leave you with a screenshot of his closing quote. Are you fashioning yourself?